Yes to nukes?

Out here in IL, we are shelling out big bucks so the utility company can scrap their nuclear power plants before they’re officialy need to be scrapped. (we get to pay MORE for them to make LESS power. Aint that grand)
So I was wondering, does the DOE still commision nuclear power plants, or have nuclear reactors for the purpose of generating power been branded a failed technology?

[Insert Clever Quote Here]

I live in Long Island New York where several years ago our local power company built a nuclear plant (Shoreham) which never amounted to a hill of beans and once it was completed they had to distroy it at a great cost to their customers, (You know who they were!) anyway a few years past and now New York State took over the power company and all of the customers got a refund (around $350.00 as I remember)I would think that before any power company decided to build a Nuke plant they would look to see what has happened elsewhere, as far as the Government is concerned I think they have nothing to do with it till the actual fuel rods or whatever the fuel is comes into play.

Take Good Care, Scott E.

Okay, as I recall the whole Shoreham incident, the plant was never completed due to public outcry – the half-finished plant was demolished to cut losses. I was in high school at the time, there were all these “You are 3.6 miles from Nuclear Meltdown” slogans spraypainted on the sidewalks. Am incorrect in this?

Now I live in Michigan, which does use partially nuclear power, and as far as I can see it is fairly sucessful. No one seems to care (industrial waste is a bigger issue) and electricity is extremely cheap.

Regarding IL: are the destroying them with plans to rebuild them? If so, then they are taking extra safety precautions, and you should thank them for their consideration in lowering the possibility of an accident.

I don’t know if they still commision new plants, though, which was the basis of your question.::sigh::


      • I understand that to build a nuke power plant in the US now requires 12-15 years just to get the permits, and there are numerous opportunities for the public to outcry along the way. It’s difficult to find a company that will toss off their (private) money that way. Nuke plants often have lots of cost overruns, because much of the time it’s not their money they are spending but federal dollars. Can’t say that it surprises me.
  • I wonder about the possibility of putting reactors underground in old coal mines, but this has more to do with common sense than gov’t. regulations. Would a meltdown pollute anything? - Could be handy in Illinois, except that it would probably need a Very Special Permit, at a Very Special Price. - MC

>Regarding IL: are the destroying them with
>plans to rebuild them?
No. I dont think nukes are as cost effective as everyone thought they were going to be in the 50s and 60s. They are more expensive to build, more expensive to maintain, more dangerous and after 20-30 years the entire facility becomes radioactive waste that the company is obligated to clean up.

And yet the navy has been using nuclear power with spectacular success. I’m guessing the navy reactors have much better technology than 50-60 era comercial plants. I’m just wondering if, now that there is less demand to manufacure plutonim, the government put the kibosh on building new nuke plants, or if the companies have just decided that the profit margins arent high enough.

>If so, then they are taking extra safety
>precautions, and you should thank them for
>their consideration in lowering the
>possibility of an accident.
Give me a break! If you think the powercompany does ANYTHING out of the kindess of its heart, you are deluding yourself. They are decomissing it because coal power is cheaper and they got the OK to screw the consumers into picking up the decomissioning tab.

[Insert Clever Quote Here]

Not to mention the fact Commonwealth Edison (The IL utility in question) has had the highest number of their plants on the NRC’s watch list at one time (5 of 7) and had one plant on the list longer than any other ever, (Braidwood, I think, for 18 months) they have one of the highest rates in the country for electricity. Comm Ed is a prime example of extreme mismanagement and dangerous operating conditions in the nuclear power generating field.

They have already closed one plant (Zion) - decommissioning may take 50 years or more.

Thank god their monopoly is due to expire within 5 years; I’d rather buy power from the anti-Christ than give them another dime.

It is my understanding (can’t name a source here off the top of my head) that while no specific law or policy exists forbidding new nuclear power plants, the DOE hasn’t granted a license to build a new one in more than 15 years and doesn’t expect to. I doubt any public utility has tried to apply in at least that long.

I do know that no new nuclear powerplants are under construction in the US.

As for financial viability, I do note that nuclear programmes in France, Sweden, Japan and Canada have been profitable, and the primary problems they are facing are public resistance to various waste storge and recycling plans. IMHO, most of this resistance is not based on sound science or history.

I do also note that France and Canada (the two national nuclear programmes that I do know a bit about) are managed very differently than the American one. In each case, a single reactor design (although one that changes a bit over time as more is learned) is used at every facility, which means lessons learned at any one plant are immediately useful at others. It also becomes much easier to train plant engineers and provide for consistent safety protocols.

In the US, though, each plant was a nearly unique design and processes were often re-engineered each time a new plant was built. This meant each plant was, in effect, experimental and had to be heavily over-engineered. This seems to me to expalin, in part, the difficulties the US nuclear industry has had while others have done fairly well.

"I have never made but one prayer to God, a very short one: “O Lord, make my enemies ridiculous.” And God granted it.
- Voltaire

Nuclear plants have a hard time competing economically with other alternatives, but that is purely because of the political environment, not due to the technology itself.

The problem is that despite nuclear power being many, many times safer than coal power both for plant workers and for the surrounding public (even when you include the *#@!-up at Chernobyl), there is still a public outcry every time a new plant is to be built. This reaction is based in ignorance, not fact, but there’s nothing that can be done about it, because no amount of education can make someone learn who is dead set against something for political reasons. It’s not that the technology failed, it’s that we MADE it fail.

I don’t really shed any tears for the loss of nuclear fission plants, but what i DO shed tears for is that the same public ignorance will doom FUSION plants when we have that technology available. And that will be one of the most damaging and misguided things ever done in the name of “environmentalism”.

But what can you expect from the same public that forced the medical industry to change the term “nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR)” to “magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)” just to avoid the word “nuclear”? There was no fission or fusion involved in this imaging system, but they had to relabel it solely to cater to a rather staggering level of public ignorance of technology.

Err, I guess you didn’t ask for that rant, did you? Sorry :slight_smile:


peas on earth

While I agree that public ignorance may be a bit of a problem here, I think it will be easily overcome in the case of fusion, even if the the word “nuclear” has to be hidden, like it was with the NMR/MRI thing.

There is a fair amount of misinformation about nuclear fusion, like the idea that a fusion reactor could be detonated like a hydrogen bomb. Nonetheless I think this will be overcome, if nothing else because the European community seems serious about it, and folks in the West would eventually get jealous of all of the cheap energy.

>The problem is that despite nuclear power
>being many, many times safer than coal power
>both for plant workers and for the
>surrounding public (even when you include
>the *#@!-up at Chernobyl),
“Melt down” is such a buzzword Kent. We prefer to think of it as an unrequested fission surplus.
I’m not real sure I agree with you on the safety part. I know coal can be wickedly toxic if its not reacted properly. Mining it cause horrendous water pollution, but as I understand it the risk is much more wide spread and the persistence of the toxicity in an accident is much higher in the case of nukes.

It just occured to me as I was fuming over my electric bill, that as part of an anti-global warming pact, the US has agreed to reduce its gross CO2 output. I dont see how this goal can possibly be met if the operation lifes of many 50-60 era nukes are coming to an end, utility companies are switching to coal and no more nukes are being built.
This is compounded by the fact that NIMBY ecofreaks that are balking and hydro plants, the sum total of all US solar generation does match the output single nuke, and fusion generation is something like 9 orders of magnitude from an economic break even.
The only remotely viable solution I see is if we could somehow harness the hot air generated by congress.

I’m not sure that the toxic consequences of nuclear power are necessarily more persistent than coal. Naturally, you have to go along with me on a couple of caveats to get to that conclusion. Nuclear materials can be very hazardous - I don’t think anything is more toxic than plutonium, and spraying the stuff over the countryside is a lot more persistently toxic than the worst that coal tailings can do. The problem is that coal mining produces a lot more tailings, and there aren’t any alternatives to spreading them out on open land and letting them leak into the ground water. The total amount of waste generated by nuclear power is a whole lot smaller and a lot easier to control, even in accidents.

Even in the case of Chernobyl, although I’ll admit not all the data is in yet, I don’t think the consequences are as persistent as the big messes all over the Ukraine caused by a century of very dirty coal mining. The former USSR is an environmental disaster, but I don’t think Chernobyl is a very significant cause by itself. Certainly background radiation isn’t much higher in the Ukraine today that it was before. Water supplies aren’t any less safe these days either as I understand it (although they were such a mess before that it might be hard to tell.) The Ukraine still exports milk, a product that tends to concentrate toxins, without other countries complaining.

Compare this to Iraq, where depleted uranium was spread all over the coutryside, and where, unlike in the Ukraine, cancer rates have gone through the roof. Even the worst nuclear accident in history has contained the mess reasonably well compared to the kinds of scenarios being trotted out by the anti-nuclear movement.

As for the NIMBY phenomena, I find it less often in the environmental movement than among suburban Americans in general. I consider myself at least mildly environmentalist, in the sense that man obviously has the power to ruin the world around him without realy trying, and that I think that would be a really bad idea. I’m in favour, in general, of nuclear power and, in some cases, large hydroelectric power. I have some conditions - like having state-owned utilites instead of irresponsible private companies providing power, and a well established regulatory system, but I’m not against that kind of generation in principle. I agree, if you take coal and natural gas out of the picture, there aren’t a lot of sources left besides nukes and hydro. Wind power can be cost effective, as Denmark has shown in recent years, but only in some places and some of the time. Solar will probably never take off in a big way. Ocean thermal and geothermal power seem pretty speculative at this point. And although biomass power is great and it’s cheap, it’s limited by the quantity of cheap biomass. Your excrement doesn’t contain enough energy to power your computer.

At least some environmentalists - quite a few of the quieter ones in my experience - do understand this. On the other hand, try to get an SUV-driving, white picket fenced, day-trading suburbanite to pay attention to where his power is coming from and all you get are blank stares. As long as the ugly factories and power plants aren’t visible from his morning commute, he doesn’t much care about consequences.

Another rant no one needs I guess.

"I have never made but one prayer to God, a very short one: “O Lord, make my enemies ridiculous.” And God granted it.
- Voltaire

      • The reason that the Navy nuclear program is as successful as it is (with relatively low operating and construction costs and few accidents) is that the Navy nuclear reactors are standardized. Operators and technicians can move from one to the next easily, and anything that’s found to be a problem with one can be assumed to be problems with all and improvements can be implemented universally. - With typical utility reactors, every one is designed differently, with it’s own cost overruns and operating quirks. - MC
      • I also note that “closing down” nuclear plants is an expanding business - companies get paid for their time and effort to “close the plant down”, and so they make damn sure they never finish. I forget where, but in the last few years one company has tripled their on-site employees even though funding was supposed to be cut off two years ago, but what do you know, there’s just sooo much work to do they’ll need more time (and money). - MC

Having spent my entire adult working life in the nuclear industry (both comercial and Navy), I offer the following observations:

The US commercial nuclear Industry has suffered from bad management for years. This was probably because the utilities were, until recently, legal monopolies. They could pass as much of their costs on to the ratepayer as the public utility commissions would allow. These commissions were not very effective in protecting the ratepayers interests.

The government industry agency responsible for licensing and regulating the commercial nuclear Industry is the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (not the DOE). The NRC has also suffered from mismanagement for years. They would focus on minutiae and totally miss the big picture. They would force utilities to spend millions on issues that had little real benefit to safety. The measures they used to assess overall safety performance of a utility were often misleading or invalid.

However, there has recently been a wave of new management philosophy in the industry. There is a new emphasis on competence and personal accountability from the vice president level to the mechanic level. Performance now matters. Quick fixes and Band-Aids are no longer acceptable. This philosophy is being applied to cost and reliability issues as well as safety issues. There is real belief that these plants can be operated both safely and cost effectively.

This philosophy would also dictate that a plant that cannot be so operated will be permanently shut down. Hence the demise of Zion and others. However there other plants that are proving to be competitive in a deregulated market. There are even some companies that are buying troubled plants and turning them around. Other plants are actually spending money to extend their authorized operating life.

The nukes even offer some environmental advantages over fossil plants. The nukes emit zero CO2. There is no way for a fossil plant to significantly reduce the huge amounts of CO2 they pump into the air. While the nuke waste can be very hazardous, it is relatively small in volume and the technology for containing it is good and constantly improving.

So the future for the nukes looks pretty good right now. (Nobody’s going to build any new ones in this country for a while. The current licensing process is just too screwed up.) Expect to see a few of the existing plants being permanently shut down while others continue to operate and compete successfully in a deregulated market.

By the way, it is very difficult to accurately compare Navy nukes with civilian nukes. The plants are very different. Its like comparing a sports car with a locomotive. They are that different in size and complexity. Also the Navy does not have to show a profit, and it has a captive work force

Aha, a topic I know something about. I am a technical writer in the electric utility industry.

The reason nuclear generators are not being built has to do with size. Generating plants are generally getting smaller. We are heading toward a free market, as much as possible, and this is resulting in smaller companies. Some companies are still merging into larger conglomerations but even these are splitting their transmission assets off into separate companies. Because of this trend, the incredibly large, long-term investment is obviously unwise. The nuclear plants that are being decomissioned have mostly been good investments.

If you are paying extra for the dismantling of plants in your area, this is probably a result of poor planning on the part of owner rather than losses taken on the nuclear plant. Of course, maybe the owner knowingly squandered the profits figuring to recoup the money from the ignorant consumers later. It seems to be working.

I meant to compliment Joe Bob on his well written comments. Very nice, Joe Bob, your comments made my job much easier. Re-reading you comments just now. I wanted to back you up on the competitiveness of Nuclear plants that are still running. This just emphasizes my point about it being a little fishy that a consumer should have to pay for ‘scrapping’ old plants.

If men had wings,
and bore black feathers,
few of them would be clever enough to be crows.

  • Rev. Henry Ward Beecher

Joe Bob: Sorry, I thought the NRC was under the DOE, but now that I’ve actually done a web search, I see that it is an independent agency. If the Department of Energy doesn’t even have a say over nuclear reactors, then what the hell are they for?

I know (I guess everyone in America knows by now) that they are responsible for nuclear weapons - which strikes me as pretty dumb, doesn’t the US have a Department of Defense for that sort of thing? I assumed, since they are the Department of ENERGY, that they were also responsible for the NRC.

Just goes to show what happens when you apply logic to American government.

I would be interested in your comments on the CANDU and French EGF generator programmes, if you have any. My background leads me to believe that the oversight environment and standardisation of plants is the major factor in their success. This seems plausible to me, but I don’t presently work in nuclear engineering so I have a hard time knowing for certain when I’m getting BS’ed.

"I have never made but one prayer to God, a very short one: “O Lord, make my enemies ridiculous.” And God granted it.
- Voltaire

I seem to recall one time being told that a person living a quarter mile from three mile island would get fewer rads than a person living in the center of Los Angeles.
Of course, I also recall once being told that the ash left over from coal power plants, was more radioactive than 98% of the byproducts of a nuclear reactor. Not sure I believe that one, even though I know that coal often has a fair amount of radium in it.

>>Being Chaotic Evil means never having to say your sorry…unless the other guy is bigger than you.<<

—The dragon observes

So, there are no more nukes beacause of mismanagement and NIMBY ecofreaking, but its the power of the future…
Well I centainly hope so, because fossil fuels are wrecking the planet AND running out fast.

For those of you that wrote about fusion saving the day, let me point out that the bulk of the hazardous waste generated by nuclear powerplants comes from the fact that neutron radiation rubs off on the equipment, the shielding , the building, everything!. Deuterium fusion produces high energy neutron radiation too, and if Pons and Fleschmen had be right about cold fusion, they would have died from radiation poising pretty quickly. So even though you can fuel it with water, it still produces radioactive waste just like cruddy old fission.

From the JET people:

These are the folks who have had more success with fusion than anyone in the world so far.